Secret Wars: The Marvel Universe, One Month Dead

I didn't want to get into Marvel's Secret Wars until I'd finished with DC's Convergence, mostly because I would have gone mad trying to cover it all simultaneously, especially considering the two events have such similar premises. So comparisons will be inevitable.

This is, in fact, very much a DC-type event. Multiversal trouble, Earths crashing into one another, an Elseworld feel, and a continuity adjustment on the horizon. Jonathan Hickman is very much Marvel's answer to Grant Morrison, with big cosmic ideas, many of which may well go over a reader's head. The set-up IS a little like Convergence - various continuities acting as states (instead of cities) thrown together on a strange planet ruled by a godling (Dr. Doom in this case). But while the planet is called Battleworld, none of the states are expressly forced to fight as was the case in Convergence. Furthermore, the event has a guiding hand that felt absent in DC's case. Hickman has created an intricate world with its own laws and mythology on the bones of the Marvel Universe here.

You know what it actually reminds me of? That two-parter in Uncanny X-Men #190-191 in which Conan villain Kulan Gath turned Manhattan into a sword&sorcery land and all the Marvel heroes were turned into fantasy versions of themselves. I loved that (and if you're nice, I'll talk about it here at some point). In this case, the event starts with the two remaining Earths in the Marvel Multiverse being destroyed and Doom using some kind of Beyonder power to remake the world in his image. The first issue of Secret Wars shows the universes blowing up, the second provides a tour of this "Battleworld"'s important features to be showcased in the summer's series (only the first month's below, click to enlarge).
As you can see there are different banners on the event. "Last Days" represents issues of continuing series dealing with the universe's destruction. It doesn't mean these will be the last issues of those series, but I suppose it's possible depending on the post-Secret Wars configuration. "Battleworld" appear to be those mini-series that interlock with the conflict seen in the main series. The worlds showcased for the most part appear to be ones that know about each other and are involved in Battlworld's politics (though in some cases, this link may be forged later; I don't see it in Master of Kung Fu, for example). "Warzones", for their part, are mini-series that don't really connect with the main story, and act as their own stand-alone tales. The slogan "Witness the seeds of a new Marvel Universe as they grow from the war-torn domains of Battlworld" is something we'll address below.

You might ask if you need to have read Hickman's Avengers to understand what's going on, but I'm going to say no. I read his Fantastic Four, which had a lot of multiversal stuff in it, and dropped his Avengers very early in because I just wasn't feeling it (too many characters I didn't know, a story that went on too long, etc.). All you really need to know is that all the Earths have been crashing into each other, and there are (apparently) only two left at the start of Secret Wars, mainstream Marvel Earth and Ultimate Marvel Earth. By issue 2, that's not even a concern because it's really a reinvented Marvel U. where various continuities, old and new, exist side by side (though a Manhattan split between the two Earths seems to hold the original continuities). Obviously, one complaint readers might have is that most of the Marvel characters inhabiting this event aren't the characters they know and love. I had the same complaint about Convergence where a year living under a dome had changed many of the characters purported to star in the event so they weren't REALLY how you remembered them. DC failed because they were looking back and looking back badly. Marvel, however, is creating something new and asking you to discover this new paradigm - a world where Doom is God, where Thors patrol the lands, the North is inhabited by monstrous Hulks, and if you don't play by the rules, you'll be thrown off the Shield and into the Zombie trench below. It's Marvel dropped in a mixer with a big dose of magic, and there's so much to discover, it may take a while to get boring.

Of course, not all the series in May have been winners. The weakest, I think, are Battleworlds and Secret Wars Journal, which split an issue up between two short stories, so as to showcase more of Battlworld, but aren't satisfying (the Kate Bishop as Robin Hood story is the best there, and it's to be continued in another book). The domains featured across the line are either reinventions - like A-Force's fantasy city protected by female Avengers, or MODOK Assassin's Killville where an assassin's guild is trashing everything - tweaked Marvel realities - like Peter David giving 2099 cool Avengers, or Old Man Logan's wasteland, or the digital crossover X-Men '92 (which replicates my most hated era of the X-Men) - or are what ifs of a sort - like Inferno, where the X-Men are still trying to get demon Illyana out after 5 years. There are all sorts of takes and all sorts of genre flavors (in addition to fantasy, there's kung fu, sf, war, postapocalyptic, humor and straight superheroes). My personal favorites were Deadpool's Secret Secret Wars, in which he revisits the original maxi-series and reveals he was there all along; Master of Kung Fu, which adds a small dose of super-powers to a Shaw Bros. inspired world (great art too - the art is generally strong on most of these series); Inferno was a pretty cool "everything goes wrong" scenario for the X-Men; Spider-Verse focuses on Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham, both of whom I quite like; 2099's aforementioned Avengers are interesting; MODOK Assassin was a riot (if you love the MODOK in Secret Avengers, don't miss this one); and the Last Days of Loki look to be as great as the whole series was. Planet Hulk, Infinity Gauntlet and Inhumans: Attilan Rising didn't do anything for me, but A-Force, Where Monsters Dwell, Old Man Logan and Ultimate End were enjoyable. By my count, that's a LOT better than Convergence. Let's hope they can keep up the level of quality.
So yeah, the question everyone's asking is: Does the Marvel Universe need a major retcon, and if so, why and what? DC does this so often it's become a bit of a joke, and when Marvel's done it in a limited way (read: undoing the Spider-marriage), fans go nuts. And they will again. That's the nature of fandom, especially a fandom that's used DC's easy reset button as a reason to say their favorite universe was superior. But look, Marvel's been retconning stuff since the 60s, they've just been stealthier about it, and I don't know that the changes will be that massive. What can we expect?

First, the inclusion of certain characters into mainstream continuity, most notably Miles Morales, the kid formerly known as Ultimate Spider-Man. We know he appears in a series after Secret Wars wraps. Also expected: Spider-Gwen (I never believed she would stay in an alternate Earth for long once she got her own series). Then there's the problem with the X-Men, by which I mean the fact Fox is holding them captive in the movie arena. Marvel Studios are denied one of their most popular franchises, and they've reputedly started pushing Inhumans (who will get a film) as a replacement for mutants in their mainstream universe. Would a reconfigured MU have fewer mutants and more Inhumans? Would they go so far as to turn the X-Men into Inhumans and would that legally change their standing? There's a lot of speculation there. Fans are also wondering if the comics universe will adopt some of the movies' elements, and seeing as many of those were 'ported over from the Ultimate Universe (the SHIELD/Avengers set-up, the Sam Jackson Nick Fury), it's possible the new MU will look more like the cinematic MU. Whatever else will change, the "seeds" are in the Warzones, apparently. Probably just hype, as I doubt Old Man Logan or Deadpool's little side-trip will have any bearing on the new MU, but look there if you like. And these aren't the only series we're getting this summer, so look for more clues as time goes by. We'll revisit this topic for sure.

Wow, long article, so I'll drop my Top Moments tomorrow, if you don't mind. (WHAT?! THIS IS A MULTI-PART POSTING EPIC?! Well, what can I say, it's a summer of blockbusters!)


Andrew Gilbertson said...

While Convergeance was a 'meh' for me (I ust roll my eyes at most of what DC does these days, except on television), this series has been on my radar ever since Renew Your Vows was teased, so I am very much looking forward to your coverage.


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